COVID-19 has provided numerous challenges to the public, businesses, and governments. Companies all across the world acted as quickly as they could to keep employees safe while ensuring business continuity despite all restrictions on movement and stay at home orders.
Initially, people assumed remote work would be a temporary solution, something that would last a few weeks – or a couple of months at most. That could not be further from the truth. It’s been more than 18 months, and we have yet to revert back to the normal we used to know. And perhaps, we never will. How organisations operate and the expectations of professionals have so greatly changed that we are now considered to be in the “new normal”.
Over the last 18 months, companies have tried and tested different ways to efficiently manage a remote workforce – figuring out which strategies allow them to engage employees, ensure productivity, and more. In cities across the world, COVID-related restrictions are now easing up, allowing business leaders and decision makers to figure out not only when and how employees will go back to the office, but also how the office would actually function, and what it would look like. This is why companies considering how to best utilise their office space and their personnel must have a Workplace Strategy.
The pandemic has unexpectedly changed years of corporate real estate practice and office layouts by questioning the size, location, and purpose of workspaces. With numerous businesses opting to allow personnel to work from the comfort of their own homes, many believe that this is also the right time to reconsider the changes that they must make in the workplace to guarantee it can accommodate the current trends and needs of the workforce.
Do companies still need offices?
An unexpected outcome of COVID-19 is how it has demonstrated to business owners and employees alike that most of the day-to-day work done in the office can be carried over and accomplished just as efficiently from home. Though it caused a lot of concerns for business owners and managers in the beginning; a sizable majority of the workforce have proven that they can still be productive and engaged, while enjoying the freedom of a flexible schedule. Very few people reminisce about the stressful morning commute they used to do every day.
However, we must also acknowledge the limitations and challenges of remote work setups. In certain industries, face-to-face interaction with colleagues or clients are vital to an organisation’s success. It makes brainstorming and collaboration easier and workflow processes more seamless. Implementing remote work is beneficial for most companies, but a physical office tailored to a business’ needs and culture is a crucial anchor.
Employees will need spaces where they can gather, connect with one another, build relationships, and advance their careers. The size, dimensions, and comfort of the modern office are key factors in achieving those goals.
Less is more
One of the biggest changes businesses are looking into is downgrading the size of the workplace. Many companies are foregoing huge commercial real estate for smaller, more functional spaces. This decision is impacted by different factors such cost savings, convenience, and culture change.
For enterprises that are looking to continually embrace remote work or the hybrid office model, it’s a wise decision to cut down on usable space, especially since the amount of staff and personnel in the office isn’t the same as pre-Covid. Any cost savings from this space adjustment can be reallocated to provide employees with better resources and hardware at home.
Rethinking purpose and design
It’s important for business owners to consider the type of real estate that will suit their staff. Some choose to purchase office space while bigger enterprises insist on building their own. Most organisations, however, insist on leasing workplaces, even looking into the benefits of co-working office spaces.
Office spaces are no longer divided with standalone cubicles cluttered with documents or decorated with personal memorabilia. The workplaces of the future is now a place to strategise and brainstorm, where colleagues can collaborate, while the day-to-day tasks are done at home or in assigned quiet areas.
Multifunctional furniture that can be adjusted to promote collaboration or partitions that can either be removed or put up for private meetings are becoming popular. There can be formal and informal spaces where teamwork can be done, while quieter zones can be allocated for work that requires more focus.
Personnel may no longer have designated desks and may instead share tables or use team pods.
Encourage collaboration between colleagues
As we have already mentioned, the future office must support and even foster a culture of collaboration. Employees are looking to have better experience in the office than before the pandemic started, especially now that they’ve experienced remote work.
Productivity is at its highest when you’re in the right environment, so you need to provide the best for your employees. The Workplaces of the Future is about making sure everyone can work in a positive environment – so having distraction-free spaces where they can focus on being productive is critical.
Companies all over the world are now converting individual spaces into collaborative areas and social zones where workers can gather. Research shows that casual collaboration out of formal meetings is important for businesses.
There should also be sections of the workplace designed for coaching, mentoring, and training. By making spaces that are more creative and less structured, the office can be seen as an inspiring destination and not an obligation.
Technology is key
No matter how companies decide to reimagine their offices, the key to success is the implementation of a solid technology infrastructure.
The pandemic has made business owners more conscious of the technology needed to ensure their operations are seamless. With this demand, suppliers have also stepped up to provide companies with better solutions to promote efficiencies. It’s vital for organisations to use tools and technology to maintain employee productivity, ensure engagement, monitor attendance and the like.
Touchless technology is now being introduced to workplaces to replace surfaces such as handles and buttons to help address health concerns. Other tech innovations include facial recognition to replace access requests (like swipe cards), QR codes which can be scanned for different access levels and functions, and many more.
Probably the most vital tech element in the post-COVID office will be solutions to seamlessly connect employees working remotely and those reporting to the office. Videoconferencing software will still play a major role to ensure meetings and conferences are conducted effectively in the hybrid office.
Prioritising health and safety
Health, safety, and wellbeing of everyone reporting to the office are things companies must prioritise when thinking about the future of their offices. Now, it’s not just about following safety standards and occupational health but ensuring that the spread of viruses and diseases are mitigated.
Developers and property owners will need to work together to make sure buildings are equipped with features that can support health requirements, especially when it comes to air quality. There are new measures set wherein a building’s emission level, carbon footprint, and ventilation sources are paramount.
Employees are also an important part of the equation when it comes to cleanliness of facilities, implementation of physical distancing, as well as general mental wellbeing. The pandemic has raised everyone’s awareness of how fast airborne viruses can be passed on, and has made people more vigilant when it comes to the proximity to others as well as being confined in enclosed spaces.
Corporate offices will undoubtedly still play an important role in the future of work structures. But companies must guarantee that they meet new trends and demands to create a workplace ecosystem where staff will feel safe, productive, and welcome.
By now, we’ve all heard of the term “modern office” when talking about companies opening their doors and welcoming back employees. Business owners and commercial interior designers have been working hand-in-hand to identify modern office fit out ideas that would best benefit professional office spaces and the people it accommodates.
COVID-19 has turned the work life of most professionals on its head, reshaping our mindset on how we do our jobs, and more importantly, where. Employers have tested different ways to effectively implement flexible work, considering the need of employees to work remotely. In line with this, they’ve also started rethinking and preparing the office for when the workforce starts reporting on-site, especially since there’s a necessity for companies to accommodate ever-changing workplace best practices in the new normal.